Previously we talked about backlinks and their importance , including what creates a “high quality link”. But what does that even mean? Well, Google hints that links from “prominent websites” is a good sign that the information is well trusted. But that’s still kind of vague too. The thing is, not all backlinks are created equal. Some will help your pages rank higher in SERPs, others will seem like they’re doing nothing, and some may actually hurt your rankings. So today, we’re going to talk about identifying high quality backlinks that will benefit your site.

If you’re venturing into any kind of link building, chances are, you start with keyword research and you look at the number of links that are pointing at the top-ranking pages. And you see something like… Wow! Over 500 links from unique websites! So you click on the backlinks to see who’s linking to the page. And then you’re like… Wow! A link from Buzzfeed! And you keep scrolling, and then you see… What! A link from Buzzfeed’s Japanese site? Time to learn Japanese so I can get a link there too! So you export the results, find some email addresses, then mass-email everyone trying to take whatever you can get. This is actually the wrong way to go about prospecting and link building.

Without further analysing your link prospects, you could very well be building bad links that won’t help you rank. So what you need to do is identify your competitor’s high quality backlinks, so you can know which pages will be worth getting a link from. 

How do you do that? Easy. You’re doing to ask yourself a series of questions, starting with:

Is the site’s content relevant to my niche?

Imagine this for a second. You ask two friends for a recommendation for the best French restaurant in the city. One of your friends is a chef at an upscale French restaurant and the other is a basketball coach. Who’s opinion would you hold in high regards? Probably the chef, right? In the same way, links from a website about French food, recipes or France would hold more weight than links from sites about technology or marketing.

high quality backlinks

For example, you’ll see that this page is linking to the top-ranking URL for the query “best running shoes.” 

high quality backlinks

But if you look at the content on the site, it seems more like a personal blog on random topics rather than one on running, fitness, or any other theme. So in terms of sitewide relevance, it’s not quite there. 

high quality backlinks - runeatrepeat

With this one, you can probably guess that the site would be relevant based on just the domain name:

Now, this brings up the question, what about links from sites like news publications that cover a ton of topics, like The New York Times? This is where you need to ask yourself:

Is the page relevant to my niche and/or the topic of my content?

The New York Times covers various broad topics across their entire site. And just because they cover everything, it doesn’t mean that their links are worthless. In fact, the opposite could be true.

high quality backlinks - businessinsider

Now, if you look at the link profile of this running shoes page, you’ll see that they have a link from BusinessInsider. And based on just the title alone, you can see that the page is entirely about running shoes.

high quality backlinks

To contrast this example, look at this link from pointing at the same target. The title of the post is called “An Economics Lesson For Bernie Sanders.” The post is about economics and possibly politics. So even though they’re linking to the same page, it doesn’t change the fact that the post is about economics, and not fitness or apparel.

So in our opinion, we wouldn’t advise reaching out to this site for a link since the page and website aren’t topically relevant. Now, everything that we’ve shared up to this point is about topical and contextual relevance. But another thing to consider is…

What is your “locational” relevance?

For example, if you’re a Singapore-based photographer you’d probably want to rank your pages in Singapore and the surrounding area. After all, that’s where the bulk of your customers will likely be. So in my opinion, I think it’d also be worth building links from websites about Singapore. That might be from non-competing Singapore-based wedding vendors, or local lifestyle blogs. The next question to ask yourself is:

Does the linking site have authority?

Generally, we try to quantify “website authority” with a metric called Domain Rating. DR is a score on a scale from 0 to 100, which represents the overall strength of a website’s backlink profile. For us at Digitalhacker, we don’t really use website authority as a main metric. Instead, we use it to gauge if these people have actually earned backlinks throughout their site. It’s a great metric to use as an initial start for link prospecting.

Now, it’s important to note that while this might be a good starting point, I wouldn’t recommend only reaching out to sites with a certain DR score. You have to also keep in mind that a DR-15 site today, could continually build authority over time, making your link on that page potentially more valuable in the future. Alright, the next thing to ask yourself is:

Is the website getting consistent traffic from Google?

high quality backlinks - health blog

Looking at a natural health blog’s link profile, we can see that they had built a link from this site. It was from a relevant website and page, had decent website authority.

high quality backlinks - health blog

But if you look at the website’s organic traffic history, you’ll see a massive dip in traffic where it went from over a hundred thousand monthly search visits to pretty much nothing. And this was likely due to Google’s August 2018 core algorithm update nicknamed “Medic.”

Now, when you see significant drop offs like this or this, it’s better to stay clear. Even outside of algorithm updates, you can’t really conclude what happened with certainty. For all you know, you may be building links on sites that had previously been penalised for things like selling links. And you definitely don’t want your site to be associated with them. So long story short, it’s best to make sure that the site doesn’t appear to have been penalised and is getting steady organic traffic growth over time. With that said, the next question is:  

Are most external links on their site nofollowed?

As far as we know, links with the nofollow attribute don’t pass value. So you shouldn’t waste time building nofollow links. For example, let’s say that you’re running a guest posting campaign where you plan to link back to one of your resources. You can go to a web page, right-click on an external link, and then use Chrome’s “Inspect element” feature to see the HTML code of that link. And if you see a rel=”nofollow” tag, there’s a decent chance they may nofollow a lot of other external links on their site.

Finally, ask yourself:

Are they linking out to too many pages?

To us, this metric plays a big role when it comes to resource page link building. When a page has a ton of external links on their page, less authority is transferred via each external link. So you probably don’t want links from pages that are linking to a thousand other pages. 

However, should you only go for links that match all of the criteria that we’ve talked about? We’d say no because you’d be limiting your pool of prospects a bit too much. Instead, use these as guidelines to determine the amount of time and effort you’re willing to put into gaining links from certain pages and sites. And also use them to find which sites you’ll want to avoid building links on!